Without paragraphs, punctuation, and capitalization, writing would go on and on, spewing information without providing anything particular to focus on. We've all been subjected to presentations like that. In fact, in Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson makes the powerful point that applying story structure to business presentations takes them beyond boring lists of data and makes them focused and engaging.1 Story structure also works for written presentations—that is, reports. The topic sentences and transition words of paragraphs and the visual markers of punctuation and capitalization are all tools that help make that structure evident.
The whole point of punctuation is to clarify understanding in the absence of pauses, facial gestures, intonation, and other body English. Words alone are not enough to convey meaning, particularly when the subject matter is complex.
Even basic messages can be turned upside-down when they are punctuated differently. The following letters contain the same words, but the punctuation and capitalization—and meanings—are different.
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you! I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, ...